The HECToR Service is now closed and has been superceded by ARCHER.



HECToR launched and new photographs

14 January 2008

Today saw the launch of the HECToR service, and the release of some new photography of the hardware and a video presentation from the launch event, which was attended by Chancellor of the Exchequer, Alistair Darling MP.

You can also read some of the press coverage of the HECToR launch.

Irina Nazarova


HECToR enters the Top500 list

13 November 2007

On the 13th of November The University of Edinburgh and HECToR entered the 30th Edition of the Top500 list at number 17 in the chart. The Top500 charts the positions of the worlds fastest Supercomputers. The computers are ranked by their performance on the LINPACK Benchmark. This currently ranks us as the fastest Supercomputer in the United Kingdom.

Barry Collard

CSE Service Passes Acceptance Tests

3 September 2007

Since April, NAG has been busy putting the necessary people and procedures in place to run the Computational Science and Engineering (CSE) support service for HECToR. This has included preparing good practice guides , setting up a programme of training courses for users and being trained ourselves by Cray, and making sure that the interfaces between us and the team at Edinburgh will operate smoothly and seamlessly. On Monday September 3rd a team of assessors from EPSRC visited us and, after a thorough examination of the service that we have put in place, declared that it was "fit for purpose". The CSE team is now looking forward to working with the first HECToR users over the next few weeks.

Mike Dewar

Cray Porting Workshop, Edinburgh

3 - 4 September 2007

This workshop, run by The Cray Centre of Excellence and hosted by EPCC at the University of Edinburgh, gave HECToR users a preview of the service. The aim of the workshop was for Cray and HECToR staff to provide assistance to users, who have been awarded early use time on HECToR, with getting them set up on the machine.

Alan Gray

HECToR is Complete!

10 August 2007

At EPSRC's request, Arthur Trew, Mike Brown and I have just completed a hardware audit of the HECToR system. The system arrived in two major tranches of 27 and 33 cabinets during the last fortnight. These cabinets are now set up and make a very impressive sight in our new machine room as you can see in the recent pictures. The hardware audit was simply a check that all the required bits and pieces have indeed arrived. While we did not count every one of the 11,328 cores, we did a random series of checks of these and did count most other things! It was really great to see everything here and we now have a busy few weeks preparing for the Acceptance Tests in September.

Alan Simpson

The Cray Centre of Excellence at EPCC

1 August 2007

Well, the Cray Centre of Excellence at EPCC in Edinburgh is now up and running. I relocated to Edinburgh from Minneapolis, Minnesota in the States where I had been working at the Mendota Heights Cray office. When I say relocated, it's really a return as I, along with my family, moved to Minneapolis about 18 months ago from Edinburgh. I did a PhD in Mathematics at the University of Edinburgh (in the same building where I'm now based!) along with a postdoc in the School of Engineering, so I've been around the University for some time. While in Minneapolis I worked for a company called Network Computing Services (NCS), which had a range of Cray hardware including a Cray X1E and XT3. I worked quite closely with Cray staff at the local Mendota Heights office while with NCS, and when an opportunity arose within Cray I jumped at the chance. To find out the job was in Edinburgh was a great bonus.

So I, along with Kevin Roy and Martyn Foster, make up the Cray Centre of Excellence for HECToR. Our job is to work with all the various HECToR parties (EPCC, NAG, users) on making sure HECToR is doing what it's supposed to do. We also work closely with Cray staff back in Mendota Heights and Chippewa Falls feeding back user experiences and getting "tips and tricks" which we can pass on to the users. So far the entire experience (apart from packing and unpacking all our stuff!) has been great and I look forward to working with everybody on making HECToR a success.

Jason Beech-Brandt

Cray HECToR Workshop, Edinburgh

11 - 14 June 2007

This workshop was run by Cray and hosted by EPCC at the University of Edinburgh. Participants included HECToR support staff and potential users of the service. Featured were technical presentations describing the Cray XT4 architecture and how to get the best out of it, along with hands-on sessions where participants were given assistance with moving applications to the XT4.

Alan Gray

The arrival of the first unit

11 May 2007

On the 30 April we passed another important milestone - the arrival of a single IBM XT4 unit. This will be used to explore the way the system works, to finalise operations procedures, and for staff training. The single unit includes 80 dual-core Opteron processors and directly-attached disk storage. The installation went smoothly - by 2 May the unit was already powered up and running diagnostics.

The Phase 1 HECToR system will include 60 similar units.

John Fisher

First bit of HECToR

11 May 2007

Work on the site to prepare for HECToR has been pushing ahead. Each week we get a report from HECToR's Operations and Services manager about progress, complete with pictures - unfortunately, our insurance company insists that most of these can't be shown for security reasons. However, the new plant room - which is bigger than the room where the system itself will be - is pretty much complete, and a lot of the power and cooling infrastructure is in place. And the raised floor in the computer room has been installed. We're several weeks ahead of schedule on all this.

And on Friday 30 April, the first XT4 cabinet arrived on site. It's been installed in the old computer room (confusingly called computer room 2), which already houses a lot of other kit. I missed this event myself, but we have some pictures of in the gallery. The installation went smoothly; the system was running diagnostics on Tuesday, and the operating system by Wednesday.

The XT4 cabinet itself has 80 compute nodes (160 cores). Next door is the cabinet containing 80 500GB SATA disk drives; the third rack contains the boot RAID disk system. It's quite a considerable computer in its own right.

We're going to use this as a Test and Development system. First thing: the systems team have to get to grips with it: find out how it works (Cray will be providing a training course on-site) and set up secure operating procedures as we have always done. Then it needs to be integrated with the SAFE admin software, so that we can administer users, projects and resources properly. Then there's a long list of software to be ported.

So far, so good.

John Fisher

Oxford Group

11 May 2007

I didn't blog anything about the HECToR Users' Meeting in Oxford on 19 April.

This is a shame, as it was quite an event. There must have been around 40 to 50 of us in the newly-refurbished Oxford e-Research Centre. Many were old friends, but there were also quite a few new users of the future.

It was a hot day. We caught a plane, Edinburgh to Heathrow, then it was a bus to Reading, and a train to Oxford - after which Arthur Trew and Alan Simpson decided, like the strapping young fellers they are, to walk to Keble Road; which they did, with me plodding along behind, steaming. The meeting room itself wasn't exactly cool, either. Someone once told me that a human body gives off about a third of a kilowatt - I can well believe it.

We heard from Jane Nicholson, from EPSRC, explaining the system for applying to HECToR - you can see my version of this here. We also heard from Mike Dewar of NAG on their plans for the CSE Support side of HECToR, and how to apply for distributed support with them. It's already clear that the relationship between the service provision side and NAG will be crucial for the success of the service: things like the handling of queries, the website, documentation and so on. We're both very aware of this.

Another theme was the future of the balance between the existing HPCx service and HECTOR, and the future roles of each. Martyn Guest spoke about this, and I'm sure there will be more about it later.

I'll be blogging later about another thing which came up: that's the archiving of data on tape. There's no provision on HECToR for this. That sounds a pretty wild, but I think I'm coming round to it.

All the presentations will appear on the web later - also (I hope, space permitting) a complete video - useful as there were problems with the realtime webcast.

And then it was back to Edinburgh - this time by train to Birmingham, and then flying to Edinburgh. As we got onto the train we realised: it goes all the way through - Oxford to Edinburgh direct...

John Fisher

Bloomsbury Group

30 March 2007

Four of us from Edinburgh took the train down to London on Wednesday to meet in the Ambassadors Hotel, Bloomsbury with people from Cray, NAG and EPSRC, to review progress and discuss the next steps.

We looked at the pictures from the bulding site. We can't show these because of security concerns, but the extension to the building is now being roofed. We are well ahead of schedule on this. The pictures of our very own XT4's under construction at Chippewa Falls were good, too - and I think we will be able to put these up on the website shortly.

Alan Simpson and I discussed the organisation of the helpdesk and the website with Mike Dewar and Ed Smyth from NAG, and Jen Houghton from EPSRC. I did some live demonstrations of the helpdesk software. Obviously getting this collaboration to work is going to be a really important part of this project, so it was good to start on this. I'd never met Ed before but I remember him as a user of the Cray T3D/T3E service - he was a member of Ken Taylor's group in Belfast.

NAG is working with EPSRC to finalise the application procedures and forms for HECToR. I think we'll hear more about this at the user meeting on 19 April.

Meanwhile, OSG staff were reviewing the arrival of the first XT4 box (planned for the end of April) and logistics questions with Cray staff. There will be Cray people based in the actual building once the service starts.

All this was definitely worth the trip, and the long, long day. Email and conference calls are all very well, but a real-life meeting gave me a much better feeling of what our new colleagues are like.

As for the train trip: far, far better than going by plane. More relaxed, more room, far better food, far less hassle. I can walk to the station in Edinburgh in a quarter of an hour, and the hotel was ten minutes from Kings Cross at most. Compare that to getting to and from Heathrow and Edinburgh airport...

John Fisher

First thoughts

27 March 2007

The first entry in the HECToR blog. What is it for? Well, as it develops, we'll find out. I hope it'll be a place where members of the staff of HECToR can talk informally about the service and HPC in general, and their experiences in working on this exceptional project.

HECToR has already started. In a sense, that is - the service won't officially open until October, but there are already lots of people working to get things going.

There's work - serious building work - at the site, with the extension to the building which will house the new infrastructure well under way. The Edinburgh Evening News was out there not long ago, and printed a piece which included a picture of USL manager Alan Simpson at the controls of a JCB - unfortunately Alan refuses to let this be shown!

HECToR managers are gathering tomorrow in London to review progress so far. (We in Edinburgh are taking the green route - so that means getting to Waverley station by 5:50 am.)

The first major HECToR event for users will be the meeting on 19 April in Oxford. After that, it won't be long till the arrival of the first XT4 box at the start of May.

John Fisher